Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries podcast.
Alessandro Russo: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. Today’s episode is about reading aloud to children. Our discussion on the topic was so interesting that we went over our usual recording time so we decided to break it up into two parts.
Today, we’ll be discussing part one of two. In this first part of our reading aloud episode, we’ll discuss the benefits of reading out loud to children, how to make reading aloud fun and engaging, and how to select the best books to read out loud.
Our guest for both parts of this episode are children’s librarians Jane Dorfman and Lauren Martino.
Welcome to the podcast, Jane and Lauren.
Jane Dorfman: Thank you.
Lauren Martino: Thank you.
Alessandro Russo: So tell us a little about yourselves, how long have you work for MCPL, your positions?
Lauren Martino: See, I’m head of children services at the Silver Spring Library. I work for MCPL for three years starting three years ago in September. I worked at the Noyes Library for Young Children for a couple of months and then went from these smallest oldest libraries in the system to the newest and biggest one, which has been a lot of fun.
Jane Dorfman: I’m Jane Dorfman. I worked for 21 years in the system and I’ve been in various different branches, and presently at Davis, which was just remodeled, and I am the head of children’s there.
David Watts Speaker: Jane, Lauren, why should we read aloud to children? What are the benefits of it?
Lauren Martino: Well, research continues to show that children who read aloud, who have – the parents read aloud to them do better in school, they show up to school prepared. They get exposed to a lot more vocabulary than you normally would. You’ve got to think of not only the words they encounter on the day-to-day basis but also the quality of words.
You and I, we’re using words that we use all the time, every day. They’re going to get words like “is” and “hi” and, you know, all the comments stuff. It’s the unusual words like latex and veterinarian, Jane will use later, that you come across in books. That’s a really important part about it.
Jane Dorfman: I also think it’s a pleasure. I think children’s books are just wonderful and the bonding that you do with your child when you read to them, when you’re sharing something together, you both loving this book, I think that’s as good a reason as the improved school, you’re better ACT scores, you know, I think, the closeness you get with your children when you read to them is you can’t substitute anything for that.
Lauren Martino: And it’s an easy closeness, isn’t it?
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Like my daughter always want to play princess with her and I’m just, “I’m too old for that.” I can’t figure it out. But you have a book in front of you. It’s easy. You just – you follow the book and you follow the prompts and it makes easier to relate to someone younger than you, I think.
Alessandro Russo: So one of MCPL’s strategic goals is literate Montgomery. And one of the objectives of this goal is early literacy. How does reading out loud to your children contribute to early literacy?
Jane Dorfman: I think the vocabulary that Lauren mentioned, the increased vocabulary, the thousands of extra words they’re going to hear, I think they’re going to know what a book is and the awareness of the print and the letters besides the pleasure in reading. I think they’re going to get the idea that reading is a fun activity, something that they want to do rather than something, “Oh you have to read five books. Your teacher says so.” I think they’re going to really enjoy it more.
Lauren Martino: When you talk about early literacy, a lot of people get the idea that it’s, you know, teaching kids how to read at a really young age. Well, I think we – you know, you hear stories about kids that learn to read at two and the, I mean, the fact of the matter is not all kids need to learn to read at two. And my husband learned to read at two and it’s great for him. But unless you’re really – you have a proclivity for that, you know, it’s okay, kids are going to be fine.
But early literacy talks a lot about what’s – what they need to know to read before they actually read, so things like Jane mentioned, what a book is, the fact that you read at left to right, you read starting at the top and going down, what a book looks like right side up and upside down. It’s all part of early literacy.
Alessandro Russo: It’s kind of like just building the foundations of literacy?
Lauren Martino: Exactly. Also things like phonemic awareness, how you can break words apart into different sounds. You get a lot of books that rhyme, and rhyming is a very important factor that you’re getting language that, again, you don’t normally hear that highlights different parts of the word. That’s going to help kids read later on.
David Watts: So tell us how we can make reading aloud to children fun and engaging? Could you give us some tips so that we could understand it better?
Lauren Martino: One of the first things, I think, any librarian learns about story time, and I think it applies to parents reading to their kids as well, is picking books you enjoy because your enthusiasm is contagious. If you enjoy the book, then your child is going to pick up on that and they’re going to enjoy it more too.
Let’s see it’s fun to use different voices for the characters, not only because it’s fun. I mean, who wants to talk like a pirate? I want to talk like a pirate. I don’t know. Give yourself permission to talk like a pirate. But also because it highlights the different characters and actually helps them understand what’s going on.
And also if you involve your children, you ask them questions. You make them – give them a way to participate in the book. That helps a lot. It’s also going to help with comprehension and really add to their – what they’re getting out of the book.
Jane Dorfman: And I think a lot of picture books have things happening in them and you can ask the child, “Do you think that’s a good idea?” And they’ll answer, “No.”
Lauren Martino: Yes.
Jane Dorfman: And then asking them to predict what happens next and to draw attention to something in the pictures and often in picture books, you know, some of the information which is hard to do on the radio, but is conveyed in the illustrations and you can show the child and they can point out those little things. And I think –
Lauren Martino: The side plots.
Jane Dorfman: The side plots.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: And read in an expressive voice and put some energy into it.
Alessandro Russo: So getting them involved seems to be –
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Alessandro Russo: – a very good.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, yeah.
Lauren Martino: And there are books that really lend themselves to this, you got books with flaps, books with – you know, you don’t have to rely solely on this. But if you have a kid that’s really having trouble getting into this whole reading thing, you can start with stuff like that.
And also, no. Just – it’s okay to shorten a book if it’s just a little bit too much. It’s okay to cut the book short like. There’s a wonderful non-fiction books that have special – you know, they’ve got the big words that you can give for younger kids and the, you know, sort of smaller words that you can get into as they get older. So, just knos, you don’t have to limit yourself to exactly what the book says.
Alessandro Russo: So is there – does a good read out loud book, is there such thing? And if there is, how can we help our listeners find one? Is it kind of like a trial and error kind of –?
Jane Dorfman: I think it’s a lot of trial and error and I think it’s also very subjective. I mean, there are going to be some books that we love but every book is not for every child or every parent, and you need to find things that you like. And like Lauren said, your enthusiasm is going to carry over to the child.
You certainly need to know how long a book your little one is going to listen to. You don’t need to read 20 minutes. You can read three that is as much time as they want. You can go back and finish the book later or put it aside if it’s just – you know, I certainly had some books in story time where I really can’t put them aside, but I went, “Boy, this isn’t done. I will never read this book again.” You know, so have the parents look at them and read them and really take a cue from their child. Let them take the lead.
Lauren Martino: And paying attention to your – on what your child is interested in really helps. I mean there are books that, you know, they can be really way longer than you ever thought your child would pay attention to, but if it’s on the right subject matter, or it’s just something that sparks interest in your child, they’re going to listen to it and totally surprise you.
Jane Dorfman: And on how to find it, ask the librarians. So many people will wander the library; they never come up to the desk. That’s what we’re there for and that’s what we’re paid to do. That’s what we’re waiting to do.
Lauren Martino: And they feel so guilty when they talk to you.
Jane Dorfman: Yes. I hate to interrupt you, but, you know, but yeah, ask because the librarians read a lot and we know these books by and large and –.
Lauren Martino: We could answer these questions.
Jane Dorfman: – yeah, this is what makes our day.
Lauren Martino: And let’s see just another note about – and then again the pictures we mentioned, it’s a – you know, the read – a good read-aloud book is dependent on your child but there are some that just have so much richness in what’s going on in the pictures that you can really just get into those or – I wouldn’t say the only books you should read aloud but they make for really good read-alouds.
David Watts: Help us to understand what we as parents or guardians could do to build interest in reading in our children?
Jane Dorfman: I think you need to just to read, to read a lot, and be enthusiastic about it. Find things that you love and read those – read everything. You know, this is such a broad range of things. And you may not – I never knew what a backhoe trencher was until my son at about two became really interested in backhoe trenching.
Lauren Martino: A bunch of trucks.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, yeah. You know, if that’s their interest, you need to follow it with a little bit of books about everything. And pick up from your daily life. If you see a bug outside, we can find you a book about that bug, you can read about the eggs and larva stages and just these all kinds of stuff to build an interest in reading.
Lauren Martino: Yes, that it is really important for your kids to see you reading. It’s kind of hard to expect them to get really into it unless you are setting that example. And I mean we have a summer reading program going on this summer and it goes everywhere from birth to – and there’s an adult component because we really want the adults reading in front of the kids.
Let’s see – and then just having books around.
Jane Dorfman: I think that’s good too.
Lauren Martino: Yeah, because, you know, bringing home lots of books from the library is great too, but just having ones that, you know, just sit on your shelf and then the child sees it every day until one day, they’re like, “Oh, let me pick this up and see what it is.”
Also sometimes – something that gets neglected a little bit about reading at home is, you know, you don’t have to read books all the time. Cereal boxes are great to read.
Jane Dorfman: Comic pages in the newspaper.
Lauren Martino: Absolutely. My daughter asks me to read them every Sunday, and some of them, I’m like, “There’s no way you’re going to know – like I can’t read Doonsbury to you, it will go over your head, but okay.” Or even – you know, my daughter loves stop signs when she was a baby.
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmmm.
Lauren Martino: We went – and every time we saw a stop sign, we’d say, “Look, it’s a stop sign. S-T-O-P, stop.” And so, you know, she can’t spell many words that much but she can spell stop.
Jane Dorfman: Mm-hmm.
Alessandro Russo: What are the elements of story times that are held at the library? Is it just reading out loud or there’s more activities involved?
Jane Dorfman: Well, there are a lot of finger plays. There are a lot of opportunities to move around because we do things to music. There are fun boards, which are taken from a book but it’s a bigger visual that the whole group can see it once and point to and there’s also that sort of pacing of putting up the final pieces one at a time.
And, you know, different librarians do different things but I don’t think you can expect infants and twos and even five to six year old to sit and listen to book after book for half an hour. It’s just not going to happen.
Lauren Martino: Yeah, a lot of parents would come up and they’re like, “Oh, my child can never do that.” And it’s like they don’t understand. It’s like, “No, we don’t make them sit and be perfectly quiet the entire time because that’s not realistic.”
Yeah, we sit – we really like to stress reading, writing, talking, singing and playing in all of our story times. I mean, down to like, you know, how do you write in story time? Well, we do little finger plays that work on small motor movements which are kind of precursors to writing, you know, big motor movements. And I found that my story time for toddlers go a whole lot better when I just reserve several minutes at the end to shake our sillies out and do big jumpy sort of songs and just everyone is happier that way.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
David Watts: You know, I admire you guys for what you’re doing. And dealing with large groups of little children sort of frightens me, so maybe you can help the listeners understand the tricks of the trade? What are the secret recipes that you use that you could pass on to caregivers and teachers and other librarians who have to conduct story time on a regular basis?
Lauren Martino: One of the most useful things is to have something up my sleeves to get everyone’s attention when the grownups are talking and the kids are talking. My supervisor, Cindy Gil, taught me that – she likes to countdown the story times like, “We’re going to start story time in five, four, three, two, one.” And then, “We’re all excited to start story time.”
I’ve also resorted to it. I’ve got a little bunny puppet and sometimes I’ll be like, “I have a friend. My friend wants to come out and my friend is very shy. I really need everyone to be very quiet so my friend can come out.” And once everybody is quiet, then the little bunny comes out and waves and whispers in my ear all their expectations for story time. And I mean there are songs that you can put out there – you know.
I’ve never – every elementary school kid ever will respond to [MAKES NOISE]. They know what to do there.
Alessandro Russo: I remember that from elementary school.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. I did it at school visits like yesterday. It worked like a charm.
So just have a way of bringing them back because sometimes you lose them. Also, just that big – like we said, building in the wiggle time like I tend to – you know, my formula is like a book, a song, a book, a song, and, you know, sometimes if you got older kids or kids that are going to be able to sit still a little longer, you can stretch it to two books but, you know, just understand that’s – you know, it’s not always going to work out.
And also just remembering the text to picture ratio and just making it appropriate for the kids that you have, it’s a good way of thinking about it. Like babies, you know, it’s like one sentence per page is plenty. You can, you know, work up to a couple of sentences for preschoolers, but I don’t know – depending – you got to know your audience. And I found that, you know, you get ambitious sometimes, you try something a little harder. You got to have an exit route if you do that.
Sometimes, just remembering kind of your lowest common denominator or the kid that’s going to have the hardest time sitting still. You can cater to that kid. Sometimes it works out a little better.
Jane Dorfman: I do think you have to break up the activities. You have two keep – have them just sit and read, do some finger plays, do a stretch. I also want the parents involved. And I say that, you know, in the beginning, this is the kind of story time that works best if you participate with your child. And then I will look hard at those people who are already on their cellphones, they have just sat down. And then sometimes I find it hard after we’ve done jumped around, move to – done some music. Then we’ll all take a big breath and sit down kind of like a flower. And just that feeling of taking in the air and letting it all out is just a naturally calming feeling.
Lauren Martino: That’s nice.
Jane Dorfman: But I think that you can’t expect children to act like adults. If they’re twos, they’re going to act like twos and, you know, you just have to expect that. And especially if you have a really large group – you know, sometimes you can’t get through all them and show – you got together, you can’t get through all the books.
Lauren Martino: It’s better to have more.
Jane Dorfman: It’s better to have more and some – fresh new things.
Lauren Martino: So you can adjust to new things.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: Yeah.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: And at any time you find a book is not working, sometimes if you can just work a little bit more participation in there, like get the group doing something, that helps a lot like Caps for Sale is a really long book, it’s hard to do for a lot of groups, but if you can work in the part where they all stand up and act like monkeys, then it works a lot better.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
David Watts: What do you do with a precocious child who likes to ask a hundred questions, one after another after another?
Lauren Martino: That’s a good question.
Jane Dorfman: I’ll answer a couple, and then I would say, you know, we’re going to ask the rest of those questions at the end, we’ll talk about it then.
Lauren Martino: Because you don’t want to shut them down.
Jane Dorfman: No, you don’t want to shut them down.
Lauren Martino: Use your good instinct, and you model for the parents, you do answer the questions.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, yeah. But you can’t – I mean – if you ask the kids a question, you know, that’s always a dangerous thing to do, you know, because you’re asking – you see the dog – I have a dog at home, do you know what he did last week? And it just – we just gets –
David Watts: You open the door.
Jane Dorfman: The group gets away from it. Yeah.
Lauren Martino: And you want that one on one, you really want that one on one, but with 50 kids, it’s –
Jane Dorfman: Yeah –
Lauren Martino: It’s a different ball game.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Alessandro Russo: Maybe a good additional story time policy would be no phones for parents –
Lauren Martino: We have cellphone song in my library.
Alessandro Russo: Nice.
Lauren Martino: I put my cellphone up high, I put my cellphone down low, I wave my cellphone around in the air and then I silence it and I put it away.
Jane Dorfman: It doesn’t rhyme.
Lauren Martino: It’s okay, they laugh, they do it.
David Watts: Go back to tot tot titi tot.
Lauren Martino: There you go. It’s also helpful to think about the size of your group. If you’ve got five kids in front of you, there’s a lot more books, you can look at books with more intricate pictures that you can get right up on top of rows. If you have a big group, either – if you have big books, so much the better, if you can project your book on a screen, so much the better. Otherwise, you got to think about books that – very clean lines that are easy to see from far away.
I really like Jan Thomas’s books for that reason, the really thick lines, and very bright colors, and you can see them from, you know, they’re not that big, but you can see them from a mile away.
Jane Dorfman: The library has a lot of big books which are like 3 feet tall, but I think a good test is to put your book up front and go stand where that child is going to see. And you’d be surprised how little you can see. And children’s vision isn’t even 20 – especially with the infants and toddlers, it’s not 20-20 for a long time.
So you’re waving this tiny book up there, and they’re just not seeing it.
Alessandro Russo: Is there any online resources that listeners can use to find read-out loud books?
Jane Dorfman: Yeah, our website has lots of lists that are age-appropriate for preschools, and toddlers, we have some electronic sites. I would rather the parents read, but that will read to a child, you know, you can log on to our websites, we have a lot of lists. And there’s a nice service, what do I check out next, and we don’t get a whole lot of questions for kids, but it’s available.
You can say, my child likes this, this and this, they’re 5 years old, and somebody will give you a list of suggestions, and there’s Beanstack which is the summer reading software that will send you a weekly book for your child.
Lauren Martino: If you want to get really in-depth and you have a particular subject and you need to find a book on that subject, we have something called, Novelist, I think, it’s a K-12 –
Jane Dorfman: There is a K to 12.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. And for your slightly older kids, but you know, you can – we use it a lot when we’ve got the random question – I knew a book about a bunny, and a duck, and I can’t remember the name. But you can get really specific on the kind of topics you want in there too.
David Watts: Well, just off the top of your head, who are the famous authors that a parent could look to?
Jane Dorfman: They could look to I think Mo Willems.
Lauren Martino: Oh, Mo Willems.
Jane Dorfman: I like – some on the class – because some of these things like Madeline, children should just know that, you know, and it’s a longer book, that little picture, it looks a little old fashioned, but kids still love it, and the words rhyme.
And I really wish they would do some of the basic folk tales. It’s another cultural legacy, especially for parents who – this is not their native land, and this is not their first language. The Little Red Hen, Three Bears, Three Pigs, Billy Goats Gruff, you know, and some of the folk tales for the folk tale collection, this should be kind of in everybody’s –
David Watts: My kids love Clifford, anything that had Clifford, they were good to go.
Lauren Martino: I like Bill Martin Jr., and I think a lot of people – he’s got a lot of classics, but people tend to associate it as books with the illustrators.
Jane Dorfman: Yeah.
Lauren Martino: So you know, that’s where you’re going to find, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, and a lot of really well-known things.
Jane Dorfman: That have really good rhythm, and nice – they have great pictures, but they sound good too.
Lauren Martino: I like the one called – an author called Susan Middleton Elya for books that kind of – she incorporates Spanish words in this sort of rhyming ways. So if you have any interest in exposing your children to different languages, like when the line ends with a Spanish word, it’s a lot easier to remember. I was amazed reading like [Spanish Language] [0:20:20] and you know, it’s like my daughter suddenly remembers the Spanish word at the end because it comes to mind.
But there are so many of them, it’s kind of hard to limit it to one. I like Carmel Wilcox too, just for the rhyming, Ashley Scott – Bears Snores On, and Hilda Must Be Dancing.
Jane Dorfman: That’s a sweet book.
Lauren Martino: Yeah. I think I memorized that one at some point.
David Watts: So do you have a go to favorite?
Lauren Martino: Of an author?
David Watts: That’s sitting on your desk that you constantly just grab and go with?
Lauren Martino: Oh, gosh, I really like Trashy Town. It’s one of those of very participatory because there’s so much repetition that at some point, the kids just catch on to the – damp it in, smash it down, drive around the trashy town. Is the trash truck full yet? And you look at them, and they all go, “No!” And Mr. Giley drives on.
Alessandro Russo: I remember my go-to book was, Where the Wild Things Were.
Jane Dorfman: Still well-loved.
Alessandro Russo: Yes.
Lauren Martino: Actually, I asked my daughter this morning, what her favorite book was, and she’s like, yeah, Where the Wild Things Are – and – but to – it’s Cinderella, okay.
And I think they did a survey a while back of like, all the children’s librarians, and picked the top 100 children’s picture books, and Where the Wild Things Are, was number one.
Alessandro Russo: Nice.
Lauren Martino: It’s a masterpiece. And I don’t know, it’s a little less well-known, but there’s a Japanese Illustrator called Komako Sakai, I really like. Her books were really, really quiet, but they’re just – you can just tell that she’s watched kids. And there’s just little details in there that you know, you would only know if you’ve sat and watched kids and just very into their lives, like she’s got a whole book about this little girl that gets a balloon.
David Watts: Say her name one more time?
Lauren Martino: Komako Sakai.
David Watts: Okay.
Lauren Martino: Every kid has that experience and every kid can relate to it, especially, you know, under 2, around 2 years old, that’s an important thing to remember as you know, you introduce books that they – measure their experience because they get really into that, they know it, and they can relate to it.
Alessandro Russo: Thank you Jane, and Lauren, for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm about reading aloud to children.
Listeners, remember this is Part 1 of 2. To continue to listen in on this discussion about reading out loud to children, make sure you tune in to Part 2. We will have two story time sample readings, as well as questions relating to reading and children, answered by our guests.
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